A sobering several days

I’ve been at my employment location for almost ten years now.  In that time, I’ve worked two distinct jobs, stocking shelves overnight and working in the meat department (I work retail, in a grocery store).  When I started here, there was plentiful help in all departments, hours to do the work was also plentiful and there wasn’t an overall sense of not having enough time to get everything done.  That’s changed over the years.

The company I work for has been through a bankruptcy, but they managed to come through somewhat unscathed (several under-performing stores were closed, some redundant positions were removed and so on) but the amount of management had been reduced during the bankruptcy and hasn’t necessarily been replaced after.  Too, all of the departments are now under-staffed, and the ones that are left are expected to carry on as if we were at full capacity.  One can’t expect the work of three people to be done by one.  Yet, that’s the mind-set at corporate for some reason.  “Make do with less.”  is the mantra we keep hearing.  Yeah, well you try it buster.  It doesn’t work in reality.

In the last six months, the company has been doing -some- hiring, but not a lot.  Particularly in my department, when it comes to my days off, there’s no specific person that fills in the gap.  It gets worse when I go on vacation, as there’s no one really scheduled to help out, and when I come back from vacation, I walk into a disaster.  I understand it’s not specifically my responsibility to make sure that things work smoothly when I’m not there, but it can be understood that I feel responsible about my job when I’m not present.  At least that’s the mindset I have.  Not everyone has it.  Certainly not someone that was born in the most recent generation.  Generation Z, as they’re colloquially referred to.

Over the last several days, I’ve had the unique opportunity to be exposed to someone of this generation.  I’ve been attempting to train him as my backup in my position and I have to say, it’s been a bit of an eye-opener.  This particular person is 20 years old, in his (I think) second job post high school and already I’m dubious about what sort of future this person is going to be living in, working, etc.

It’s been hard going trying to find someone internally that’s interested in working in my department.  It’s a difficult job with a lot of thinking required, it’s a cold environment all the time, there’s a good deal of heavy lifting, and someone needs to be able to work on their own most of the time.  Be able to make good, rational decisions (that they’ll be responsible for) and not have to be ‘led’ as they’re doing it.  Not a lot of oversight, even though its a subordinate position.  Communication is a big part of it, one has to retain a lot of information and be able to move quickly when necessary.

With that in mind, since there were only two people that had applied for the position (both were rejected as they were already known to be inadequate) the store manager decided to hire someone new and hope for the best.  Enter my new trainee that started on Monday.  For the sake of argument, I’m going to call him Z.

During my initial conversation with Z, I found out that he’s 20 yrs old, his previous job was working at a big box retailer as a cart pusher, and that he was laid off from that job within the past month.  Since he was laid off, he qualified for unemployment, and had been collecting it, but in order to stay on the ‘dole’, he had to apply for jobs.  Someone in his family had suggested a local temp agency, and he used that to connect with similar jobs in his skill set.  He applied at my company and was hired.  Though I’m not certain that he was put into the proper department.

My company has a policy that an employee isn’t supposed to have their cellphone with them while at work.  As the policy stipulated when it was enacted (everyone had to sign an agreement to abide by it at the time and I believe it’s now just folded into the agreement that no one reads when they’re hired but sign anyway) the only people that should have their phone with them are managers and their immediate subordinates.  I leave my smartphone in my locker when I’m working.  The vast majority of my co-workers carry theirs with them.  Management knows about it, but doesn’t enforce the letter of the law, unless someone is flagrantly spending a good deal of ‘work time’ with their attention buried in their phone.

Over the past three days, Z has spent considerable time pulling his phone out of his pocket, looking at it and then putting it back.  The first day it must have happened at least 100 times.  I couldn’t imagine what it was that was so necessary to be looking at all the time so finally I asked him. “Oh, I’m just checking the time.” he told me.  I pointed to the clock on the wall.  Informed him that if he needed to know the time, he could look there.  He said, “Oh, I don’t do analog.”  I blinked, processed that and incredulously said “You can’t read the clock on the wall?”  He nodded and held up his phone.  “I only do digital.” OMG.  When I got home I asked my wife about it.  She nodded and said she’d read an article that said members of his generation are very unaware (or don’t care) about things like analog clocks or older tech like rotary phones and things of her and my generation.  If it’s not computerized, electronic or internet-connected, they’re not much interested in it.  I have to admit I was pretty floored by that revelation.

After about the first day, I was fairly convinced that Z is not the right man for the job.  You get a feel for someone’s manner being in their close company for more than a few hours.  Admittedly, he’s a nice kid, but he’s got no sense of urgency.  He takes his time, when he’s not doing something he puts his hands in his pockets (granted he might be cold, because it is chilly in the department, but body language would suggest if your hands are in your pockets, you don’t have anything to do) and waits to be told what to do next.  He’s never once asked me “what’s next?”  He expects to be led into the next thing, and in this job he needs to be motivated to do things on his own.  Things of which I’ve attempted to instill in him, giving him tips on how to get things done faster, to move things along and so on.  I fear he’s just not getting that it’s not a job similar to his last one.

I have him for one more day this week, and next week he’s been scheduled for 12 more hours in the department.  Next Wednesday he has to do the job without me, as that will be my day off.  I expect that will be an unmitigated disaster.  But I can’t stop the train wreck, just hope for the best.  After being with him and working with him for the past three days, today I’m going to hang back a little and let him have the reins a bit and see where he leads.  I know there are going to be mistakes, that’s a given.  Just have to be sure that they’re not insurmountable or worse yet he gets chewed out by Bob, the department manager, who has less patience than I do.

We’ll see how it goes….